It was an Easter Sunday and as such we attended a family gathering in Chicago at my grandparents home. City living was much different than what we were accustomed to living in the suburbs. The close bungalow-style housing with small yards and no driveways provided us with a different view of the world. City parks are normally very large and engulfed by the neighborhood they belong to.
Our normal protocol for this holiday was a big midday meal followed by visiting with family members and eventually kite flying in the park. I remember being out there with my brothers and cousins for hours having a great time. This was the norm.
This particular holiday found me in my mid-teens and kite flying wasn't as interesting to me. However, it was for my youngest brother Jimmy, so I was tasked by my parents to take him to the park to fly his new kite. After an hour or so I wanted to head back to the house because I saw my father and older cousin Joe on the front porch. Jimmy wanted to stay there to continue flying his kite. So I left because he could be seen from my grandparents house.
After awhile I remember seeing a very cool looking stunt kite being flown. It was doing loops and dives, but more interesting to me was its proximity to my brother's kite. My father told me to go check on Jimmy and bring him back because we were going to be leaving soon. So off I went.
I walked up and found Jimmy, who at this time was 6-7 years old, talking with an adult man who was piloting the stunt kite. At first everything appeared normal. Jimmy was enthralled by the stunt kite, as was I. The guy made some small talk and I informed Jimmy to begin bringing his kite in so that we could head back. All was good until Jimmy said, "But I want to see his rabbit. It's in his car."
It was at that moment I turned to look at the guy and he was staring at me, almost with a surprised look. But it wasn't a surprised look, it was a look of someone who just had their secret exposed. Then the guy, seeing the look on my face, stated he had a rabbit in his car and wanted to show it to Jimmy, but we could both see it. That's when the alarms began going off in my head.
At first I told Jimmy no and that we had to leave. He immediately began begging to see it. Then the guy began playing Jimmy against me, working his emotions. I eventually relented and agreed to let this guy show us. Plus, I wanted to actually see what he had in his car. Maybe this was just an innocent thing and I was overreacting, or maybe it wasn't.
Once the kites were down the guy stated his car was parked over by the concession stand, which happened to be away from the action and other people in the park. As we walked towards the concession stand I noticed the car was parked around the back out of view. The guy was ahead of us about 30 feet or so, and when he went around the corner I began getting nervous.
As Jimmy and I came around the corner we found the guy digging through the trunk of a black Crown Victoria, which was full of toys. When he turned around he had a rabbit puppet with it's arms and legs wrapped around him. He began projecting his voice through the puppet and asked my brother to come over to pet it. Jimmy was excited by this, but I wasn't. I was terrified. This man meant to do us harm.
Immediately, I grabbed Jimmy by the arm and said, "Let's go!" My brother began whining and questioning me. As we rapidly walked away I turned to see the guy standing at the corner staring at us. His eyes were glaring and he was motionless. As we got to about mid-field the guy turned suddenly and went behind the concession stand. That's when I began to run while dragging Jimmy behind me crying.
As we came crashing through the front door I began yelling for my dad. He ran up and I quickly explained the situation. He and Joe went bursting out the door running towards the park. Unfortunately, the guy had left. At that point, we knew that it had been a close call for my brother.
I apologize for the length of this story, but context is important. When I speak with students or prospective students about why they begin martial arts training they or their parents often tell me they want more confidence, which is a good thing. However, confidence is defined as "a belief or firm trust in one's ability." Yes, this can be a useful trait, but not necessarily when it comes to self-defense or violence. In fact, the predators in our society, like this particular individual, can care less about your confidence because they have an objective and in their mind they're going to meet that goal.
Instead, I suggest we look more at developing our, or our children's, courage, which is defined as, "the ability to do something even when it frightens us." This trait is what gets us through a difficult situation, or when our lives are thrust into chaos. It's this behavior that predators dislike most because someone exhibiting courage disrupts their plans.
This personally was my second encounter with someone with evil intent. It went the way it did because my 15-16 year old self had the courage to protect my brother, keep our distance and flee the situation when it was absolutely necessary. This is self-defense in it's purest form.
In the next blog, I'm going to tell a story about my third encounter with someone I considered evil and how it relates to self-defense. Just thinking about this incident again is upsetting to me. My hope is it helps someone someday if they find themselves in a similar situation.